Personally, I believe that there are few workplace problems (other than allergies) that cannot be solved by a dog. My own dog comes to work with me every day. It’s not an exciting commute from the back door of my house to my garden office but along he trots, very enthusiastically, nevertheless. In fact, it’s not unusual for him to be even more thrilled by the prospect of work than I am.
Of course, that might have something to do with the fact that his idea of a hard day in the office largely involves snoozing on the floor, with the occasional foray into the garden to bark at trespassing birds or simply to stretch his paws. Mine, on the other hand, generally involves spending many hours chained to my desk, either conducting lengthy interviews on conference calls or writing about technically challenging subjects and answering strings of emails.
How exactly does my dog help me, then? Well, firstly he encourages me to get away from my desk from time to time, for a break, or a snack or – if he’s really lucky – a leisurely stroll to the local coffee shop. Don’t mistake this for slacking – it’s valuable thinking time for a creative individual. I’ve lost count of how many good (well, I like to think they are good) ideas I’ve come up with while I’ve been out walking with Sam.
Secondly, I find that a pat or a stroke is a good way of keeping stress at bay. Again, it helps me to think. Finally, Sam is the only company that I have for many of the long working hours that I toil away on my own. If it wasn’t for the fact I have a dog in my office, I would pretty much be a professional hermit.
So, you’re thinking, she loves her dog, but what does this have to do with leadership? Well, the productivity-boosting power of pets is something that large organizations such as Nestlé and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, already appreciate. We also know that over 40% of millennials (in the U.K. at least) would like to work in dog-friendly workplaces. What’s more, in a working world that is increasingly defined by mobile and gig workers who are based at home, pets are having a progressively greater influence on the office environment and on how we spend our money.
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New research by interiors etailer Furniture123.co.uk has even found that British pet owners spend an average of £143 per year furnishing and decorating their office space to accommodate their furry friends. The most popular purchases include pet beds, food bowls, blankets and treats. (I plead guilty to all of these.) Additionally, 23% of pet owners invest in soft furnishings, such as cushions and toys, to help their pets to relax and unwind in a busy office environment. A devoted 4% of Brits even purchase work uniforms for their pets. Significantly, the link between dogs and creativity seems to be emphasized by the fact that people who work in marketing are likely to spend the most on pet furnishings for their office.
The fact is that dogs can play a very important role in the modern workplace for a number of reasons. They help workers to stay healthy and to practice good habits, such as taking breaks. At a deeper level, they help to alleviate some of the stress associated with working life and they can make a real difference to autistic people, which has significant implications for employers looking to tap into the neurodiverse workforce. They also promote team bonding, laughter and a generally convivial atmosphere. All round, dogs can be a great competitive advantage when it comes to motivating and retaining talent.
Perhaps most importantly of all, in a world that is increasingly dominated by technology, dogs don’t come with screens, cables and chargers. They don’t hang out on social media, they don’t beg you to sign up to their e-newsletters, and they don’t send reports on your every online move back to the tech behemoths. Dogs have never heard of algorithms, applications or artificial intelligence. Dogs don’t want to steal your job, although they can make the best collaborators in the true sense of the word. Ultimately, dogs let you be just what you are – human. These days, there’s a lot to be said for that.